The Last 5 Years play review

Published 11:50 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Love endures — but not always. Sometimes for only a few short years. When a successful man perceives it going forward and a failed-to-launch woman perceives it going backward, you can expect some crashes and burns among the days of wine and roses.

Such was the case in the recent production of the musical The Last 5 Years, presented by local theatrical company Shakespeare and Friends at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, June 13-16, starring the up-and-coming actors Bethany McDonald and this region’s own Chase Wolfe. In this structurally unique play, Wolfe is Jamie Wellerstein, a young Jewish man who quickly finds success as a novelist, who tells his story of love, marriage, and career from the beginning to end. His wife Cathy Hiatt, played by McDonald, tells her story from the end of their marriage to their courtship days and how she was never able to make a go of her acting career. Both McDonald and Wolfe were stellar in their performances, giving rapt audiences unwavering strong singing voices, envious youthful energy, and vibrant stage presence that endeared them to local theatre lovers. The emotional impact of the play was made all the greater by the actors’ chemistry.

The Last 5 Years was written by Jason Robert Brown, an American musical theatre composer, lyricist, and playwright, whose work in Parade and The Bridges of Madison County has won him two Tony Awards. It is based on his own failed marriage, and it is notable that his ex-wife took exception to his creative exposure of her and sued him. He counter sued and eventually agreed to change some of the play’s details to not portray his ex so negatively. The musical first opened in 2001 at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre and has since made its way to Off-Broadway in 2002, an Off-Broadway revival in 2013, and an Off-West End production in 2016. In 2002, it won two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics. In 2014, a film version of the story was released to mixed reviews. At this time, The Last 5 Years is scheduled for a Broadway debut in the spring of 2025 with Tony-winner Adrienne Warren and Grammy Award-nominee Nick Jonas in the starring roles.

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McDonald and Wolfe made their way to Tryon to star in The Last 5 Years during a short break of their North American Broadway Tour of Pretty Woman the Musical where he plays the lead male role and she is the lead female character. McDonald is a British performer who moved to NYC for the lead role in Mike & Mindy’s Wild Weekend Jam (Off-Broadway). Her credits include Brilliance (Frances Farmer/originated role Off-Broadway), SIX The Musical, Saturday Night Fever, Parade, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and others.  Wolfe is a favorite son of Upstate South Carolina, where he was reared and got his start as a performer. His work includes performances with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Off-Broadway, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, Dollywood, and many others.

In addition to the brilliance of the performances, Director Catherine Gillet and Producer Michelle Newman are commended for making The Last 5 Years their own. They presented in the downstairs Pavilion of the Arts Center on a raised stage with a minimal set of six stackable stools and costume changes. Throughout the show, as the characters’ love and careers rose and fell so did the stools, creating a subtle metaphor of how the highs and lows of life assemble and disassemble.


Submitted by Steve Wong